During the night of June 19, 1945, aircraft from the U.S. Eighth Air Force conducted an incendiary bombing raid on the city of Fukuoka, Japan. The bombing destroyed 22 percent of the buildings in the city of 323,000.
At noon on August 15, 1945, Emperor Hirohito of Japan broadcast to his nation that Japan would surrender to the combined forces of the Allied Powers. After listening to the broadcast, a group of Japanese officers at Fukuoka led by Colonel Yoshinao Sato, Chief of the Intelligence and Air Defense Sections of the Western Army headquarters, took seventeen captured U.S. airmen to Aburayama outside of the city. There they executed the airmen with blows to the airmen’s necks using their samurai swords. First Lieutenant Hiroji Nakayama, who was accompanied by a young lady from the Intelligence Section, made certain that he and the other Japanese did not decapitate their victims as such was considered insulting to the victims in Japanese tradition. They acted under the provisions of Japan’s Enemy Airmen Act of 1942, which classified air raids on Japan as violations of international law punishable by the death penalty or prison terms of at least ten years. This Act sought “to prevent further [air] raids [on Japan] by giving stern disposition to enemy airmen, thereby inculcating fear in American mothers and possibly resulting in an anti-war movement in the United States (Francis 1997, 480).”
On December 29, 1948, Colonel Sato and twenty-four other Japanese officers were found guilty of the murder of these prisoners of war and others; seven other defendants were acquitted. Sato and eight other officers were sentenced to death by the Commission. Upon review, General Douglas MacArthur commuted the death sentences on July 9, 1950, instead sentencing Sato to “hard labor for the term of his natural life.”